Dennis Morris interview by Nicholas Cope
Photographer Dennis Morris has done everything from touring with Marley and meeting the Stone Roses to being the lead singer for Basement 5. He’s now working on a new show with the MET (NYC) called ‘Punk: Chaos to Couture’, oh and also planning a film with Paul Kaye (aka Dennis Pennis). This is what happened when we finally caught up with him.
What inspired your passion for photography and who has been there supporting you from the beginning.
Dennis Morris: My passion for photography started from a very young age; I was a member of a photographic club in the East-End of London. My inspiration was people like Don McCullin, Cartier-Bresson, Avendon, Bailey to name a few. The man who supported me the most was Donald Patterson, the founder of Patterson products. He was a manufacturer of photographic equipment and he founded the photo club where I learnt photography; he was my mentor.
Could you tell us about your experience with Bob Marley and the Wailers on tour?
Dennis Morris: My experience with Bob Marley was very spiritual; as a young black teenager, searching for my identity and also trying to pursue a career in photography. He gave me the confidence to pursue my career and to forge my identity. I can sum him up as being pure magic, electric; he truly was the messenger for the people.
You followed the Sex Pistols for a year with unrestricted access it must have been an exciting time for you and music?
Dennis Morris: Yes it was! At that time, we all felt anything and everything was possible; you picked up a guitar, you were in a band; you had a camera, you were a photographer; you slashed up your clothes, you were a fashion designer.
What is the most important thing to remember to get a good image?
Dennis Morris: Use the third eye! Don’t look; SEE
From photographer to lead singer of Basement 5; why the change?
Dennis Morris: It was necessary. I wanted to show people that Black music needed to go in another direction ( free your mind and your arse will follow!!); hence groups such a Bad Brains, Fishbone, living colour and much later Asian Dub Foundation have cited us as being the major influence to show them possibilities.
With Basement 5 you worked with visionary music producer Martin Hannett. What are your memories of him?
Dennis Morris: He truly was a genius. A visionary of sound and I doubt if we had worked with any other producers we would have been capable of achieving what we did. You have to remember the sound of Basement 5 was all in my head because I was not a musician, I was an artist and so music for me was visual. He was the only one who was able to visualise that sound in my head and record it.
Incidentally it was Hannett who introduced you to the Stone Roses at a rehearsal in 1995. Can you remember your first impression of the band and how did you get to work with them?
Dennis Morris: My first impression was: WOW! You guys are serious! And it was through that I continued my friendship and belief in the band. The first show they did in London, I put them on with the Chief of Relief. When the Roses played they emptied the room! Everyone kept saying to me, they were crap! But I saw that magic and determination; especially in Ian, the rest is history.
You are currently exhibiting and also have released a 200 page book named “This is the one”; showing over 250 never seen Images of the Stone Roses. Can you tell us a bit more about this?
Dennis Morris: The exhibition is a small insight into the book; I would need a space 10 times that to show all the images I have. Even the book itself is a small selection of the images that I have but it is a great collection worth collecting.
What is it you like the most about being a photographer and what inspires you?
Dennis Morris: The thing I like the most about being a photographer, which is what I always set out to do, is the freedom of travel and to express ones ideas.
photography is truly an art form; the camera is just a tool and like all art, it is what is in your mind and in the case of photography, the use of the third eye.
Who are you favourite bands?
Dennis Morris: Most of my favourite bands are too spaced out to make music now – like Sly Stone, Kurt Cobain… Of now, I love the music of Jack White and The White Stripes; he is a true visionary up there with all the rest. I also like dubstep and keep an eye out for Nihilismus (Pearl Morris!)
When you’re not photographing, where can we find you?
Dennis Morris: They seek him here, they seek him there, they seek him everywhere… Just call my name, you’ll find me!
Do you have any pointers for people that are looking to become photographers, or more specifically, music photographers?
Dennis Morris: It’s quite simple, if you want to do it: DO IT!
Is there any work you are currently working on that you would like to tell us about?
Dennis Morris: I am currently working on a show with the MET (NYC) called Punk: from Chaos to Couture, and a major show in New York for May 2013. I am also planning a film with Paul Kaye (aka Dennis Pennis).
All words by Nicholas Cope. Find more articles by Nicolas on Louder Than War.